Opening Speech by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC at the Land Surveyors Board 50th Anniversary Dinner
21 March 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Mr Soh Kheng Peng, President, Land Surveyors Board (LSB)
Ladies and gentlemen
1. A very good evening to all of you.
2. It gives me great pleasure to join you this evening to celebrate a milestone achievement. 50 years is not a short period of time. It is a testament to the longevity of the profession, and also, the leadership of LSB.
3. LSB was formed with the introduction of the Land Surveyors Act in 1972 as you heard earlier, and it has become synonymous with the registered surveyor scheme.
a. Cadastral surveys could previously only be conducted by the Chief Surveyor. The introduction of LSB and the Land Surveyors Act allowed cadastral surveys to be conducted by registered surveyors in private practices as well, with LSB coming in to oversee the profession to ensure the quality and high standard of surveying.
b. Under the stewardship of LSB, the number of registered surveyors has grown to meet the demand, and we can now count on nearly a hundred registered surveyors that are qualified to provide high quality land surveying services.
c. Beyond building up a significant number of qualified professionals in the private sector, LSB has also made very important contributions over the years to help the growth of individual surveyors and also with promoting the profession over these many years. This includes introducing directives and guidelines to keep the profession up to date on standards, running courses in collaboration with tertiary institutions to help upgrade the capability of its surveyors, just to name a few examples.
4. I want to add my congratulations to all of you today on 21st March – well- chosen for this evening’s celebrations as the survey fraternity celebrates Global Surveyors’ Day.
5. The last few years have certainly been very challenging indeed for everyone, but perhaps one of the sharp and focused pressure points has been on the construction and building industry, and that includes the registered surveyors, due to the impact of COVID-19.
a. Work may have often been given up, suspended or in many cases delayed, due to the manpower crunches and shortages, and gatherings in person to facilitate learning to exchange ideas and interactions were also difficult to do during this period.
6. LSB was cognisant of the challenges its registered surveyors faced during this period. I am glad to know that it introduced several changes to help everyone tide over this period, to adapt to take on a new normal, and to overcome these challenges during COVID-19.
a. For example, LSB allowed the renewal of the practising certificates of registered surveyors for the years 2021 and 2022 by waiving or halving the continuing professional development (CPD) requirements. That is really a practical step.
b. LSB also encouraged several online events for registered surveyors to participate in, to create more opportunities to get to see each other, to interact, to create learning opportunities and so on.
7. I would like to commend everyone here today for really seeing through a difficult period, persevering through the challenges of the pandemic. I do know – in fact, we have been having a debate in Parliament the past couple of days –that Singapore and Singaporeans, with the strength of unity and cohesion that we have in our society, have really emerged stronger after the pandemic than before.
Contributions of Surveyors
8. Registered surveyors have also played a big role in shaping the Singapore we see today. Much of what we have today has been contributed to by the work done by each of you. You have all contributed to a stable and reliable property ownership framework, through your work in cadastral surveys depicting accurate property boundaries and areas. In land scarce Singapore, that is all the more important.
a. The work of registered surveyors is one of the reasons why Singapore is renowned as a business-friendly country, where we are fair, play by the rules, know what the rules are and apply them fairly. We ranked first for our legal and regulatory framework in the International Institute for Management Development (IMD)’s Yearbook 2022. The work done by each of you and your profession has contributed to that achievement.
b. In the built environment sector, registered surveyors also work together with allied professionals, architects and professional engineers, in the lifecycle of a development project. That can take a period of time. The work stretches from concept to construction and even beyond; from topographic surveys of the site to the final stage of cadastral survey when the building is completed. Surveyors are often in the thick of things and are often the first ones in and the last ones out.
The Future of Surveying in Singapore
9. I have been told that land surveying is often referred to as one of the oldest professions in the world. Earlier, President showed a slide that confirmed that to be true, because they are all etched in stone on Mount Rushmore. But I will add a little bit more history.
a. Surveying has a history that stretches even further back – to the civilisations of ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon. It is that old. There is no doubt the practice of surveying and the profession itself has had a long history and has had to evolve itself, because as land develops constantly, you’ve got to also evolve and move with the times. You’ve got to continue to stay relevant and meet the needs of the populations of each new generation that you serve.
10. We can see that even today, current developments continue to shape how the surveying fraternity reinvents itself constantly to retain its relevance.
a. One example is how our surveyors have increasingly gone underground, quite literally, as demand for sub-terranean mapping increases both locally as well as globally. Globally, underground spaces have been widely used to house industry, utility and transport infrastructure – all of that in the heart of urban areas, to reduce their negative impact on city living. Singapore is one of the leading cities in planning for underground development, safeguarding the space upfront to ensure its space is optimised. We have run out of space at ground level, and so have to go underground. And surveyors have evolved and undertaken this new challenge to become a critical part of this sub-terranean mapping. I am sure that our surveyors will continue to keep pace as sub-terranean mapping becomes more commonplace globally and advances in technology and innovation allow for more detailed and accurate mapping to take place.
b. Going upstream, the education of surveyors is also being enhanced to better prepare surveyors for their changing roles. Most of the undergraduate surveying courses in universities for example, have been expanding their curriculum to include more geospatial technology, data analytics and data management. Graduates can now earn bachelor’s degree in Geomatics Engineering and are now known as Geomatics Engineers.
11. I also believe that we are at another important crossroads in the storied history of land surveying, where surveyors will need to transform themselves once again to become different, to expand themselves to meet several challenges.
a. Firstly, the surveying fraternity must deal with a shrinking manpower pool. This is not a scenario that is faced only by surveyors. Changing employment and education trends has meant that surveyors today are finding it challenging to find sufficient field workers, who are important in assisting registered surveyors in collecting measurements and data, for their surveying projects. In addition, in a point made by President earlier, fewer amongst the young are willing to take up the profession and as a result the surveying fraternity is also getting older. It is not just the surveying fraternity, in fact there are several organisations in Singapore that are finding it difficult and challenging to recruit younger talent. It is not unique to surveyors. It is happening across the board from professional organisations right through to the many clans, associations, religious organisations and other VWOs that we see.
b. Secondly, land surveyors must be able to deal with the impact of the increasing introduction of technology to the field. It is an advantage or a weapon, but it is also a threat if you do not watch it carefully enough. For example, while more technologically advanced tools will allow surveyors to contribute to increasingly complex construction projects, these at the same time are also expensive to procure, to learn how to use, to operate and to maintain. Many smaller surveying firms may find it challenging to be able to find the investment required to upskill in terms of technology. Technology can also potentially automate certain tasks currently carried out by surveyors, helping to improve efficiency overall. However, and this is the same problem that we see in legal industry, technology may lead to such roles being phased out, and some surveyors will need to adapt their skills and knowledge to stay relevant in this changing market and times that is being fuelled by technology.
c. Finally, surveyors must also find a way to deal with increasing costs – again, a conundrum faced not only by surveyors today. This increased costs include the cost of vehicles to transport field workers and the rental of office premises, if they wish to continue to run a profitable surveying firm.
12. How do we overcome these challenges? I do not have the silver bullet for you. What I can say is that it will probably not be sufficient to remain in the traditional conservative mould of being surveyors. Surveyors must now take advantage of new areas of opportunities to pivot, to retool and to launch the profession to even greater success.
a. This evening, as you look back at the 50 years, look forward too. Some of the elements that have brought you to where you are can be harnessed to look forward to the next 50 years and beyond.
b. Let me touch briefly on three of these areas of opportunities – firstly the adoption of new technology, secondly, exploring opportunities in new fields, and thirdly and the most basic, upskilling.
c. By displaying the principles of innovation and being prepared to embrace and adopt innovation is already a first step. I am sure that our surveyors will be able to exploit these new opportunities that will present itself in the new economy, in the new post pandemic normal, to the fullest, and use your technical expertise combined with technology to address these new challenges.
Opportunities for surveyors (1): Adoption of new technology
13. Let me speak briefly about them. The first of these is the adoption of the latest in surveying technology.
a. The surveying fraternity has been embracing technological improvements over the years. The tools of a surveyor for example have evolved from invar tapes to electronic measuring stations to laser scanners and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).
b. Surveyors must continue to do so as we move forward, to allow the profession to be more productive and effective and serve the community better while using less labour-intensive resources and manpower. An example would be indoor mapping, where there are opportunities to adopt laser scanning technology to save time during fieldwork. Surveyors can also explore the use of drones and other remote sensing technologies to become more efficient and also more effective at what you do.
c. Adopting technology will also allow our surveyors to play their part in combating the defining challenge of our generation – and that is climate change. The threat is particularly pertinent for a small island-state like us. Being at the forefront of the adoption of the latest geospatial technology will allow our surveyors to map out the terrain of the land more consistently and also more accurately, allowing us to determine the impact of flooding and sea level rise with greater precision and confidence. And with that, enable us to monitor and manage the associated risks and allow us to implement effective strategies way ahead of time to protect the country.
d. LSB will continue to work with SISV on training opportunities to equip our surveyors with the necessary know-how to thrive in the sea of new innovation and technological advancements.
Opportunities for surveyors (2): Opportunities in new fields and locations
14. Second, on new fields and locations. Our surveyors will also be able to explore new opportunities in different fields, disciplines and perhaps even in different locations.
a. For example, as 3D building information models like 3D digital twins extend beyond the building of new buildings and into areas of heritage preservation and conservation purposes, surveyors will be needed to laser scan and construct survey-accurate 3D virtual models of the property. This will in turn allow greater and more efficient maintenance and repair work, some of which can be planned virtually in advance.
b. Surveyors will also have opportunities to expand their work in the field of sub-surface mapping, by using technology such as ground penetrating radar, as well as virtual and augmented reality. This will allow you to accurately map, visualise and analyse sub-terranean structures and spaces.
c. In addition, our surveyors can also look forward to contributing to more survey projects in the region. LSB is working with our counterparts in ASEAN to operationalise the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) for surveying professionals. This will in-turn create opportunities for local registered surveyors to embark on projects in ASEAN countries with their ASEAN counterparts, expanding your scope and field of operations beyond just our boundaries. In addition, surveyors from ASEAN countries can also collaborate with you on a local project, helping local surveyors in areas of need and at the same time complementing your areas of expertise.
d. LSB is studying the possibility of different categorisation of services to keep in pace with the expanded role of surveyors arising from the new fields of opportunities. Based on the expertise, possibly in fields such as utility surveying or mapping using drones, LSB will be looking into the feasibility of registration for each specialisation to ensure that the new areas of work can be carried out professionally, so that industry and users will have renewed confidence in these sectors.
Opportunities for surveyors (3): Upskilling
15. Finally, on upskilling. I believe that our surveyors should also take the opportunity to level up in the coming years, which will allow them to take on new and expanded roles and responsibilities.
a. LSB will ensure that the professional learning needs of our surveyors are met and they remain relevant to the industry’s needs. LSB has started to do this through initiatives such as the new “LSB Directives on Land Survey and Geomatics Practices”, which is an important set of guidelines developed in close consultation with our important stakeholders. These guidelines will keep our surveyors updated and aligned on the latest industry standards and the practices, such as the use of new mapping techniques. To boost the pool of surveyors equipped with the skillsets needed to flourish, LSB has also recently updated its examination requirements, introducing a new format of practical examinations that enables candidates to test their knowledge in dealing with real-life practical situations.
b. Aside from the work of LSB, each individual surveyor can also contribute to the movement and help other surveyors to level up and add to their repertoire of skills. For example, experienced surveyors, those with more grey hair, or even newer surveyors that are early adopters of the latest surveying technology can share their knowledge, experience and skills, know how, and generally mentor those who have not been experienced in this field. This will help to build a pool of resilient and well-rounded surveyors who can help the profession continue to be all rounded and continue to flourish for many years to come. Surveyors can also take on more mentoring roles to identify, train and mentor candidates aspiring to join the profession. Indeed, I am heartened to know that some amongst you are already doing this, such as Mr See Seng Guan, a surveyor who volunteered to conduct a series of tutorials for candidates taking the LSB examination without any remuneration. Mr See was himself very concerned that young surveyors might not have the necessary experience given what has happened the past couple of years to pass LSB’s examinations. It appears his hard work was truly effective and truly much appreciated as candidates provided feedback to LSB that Mr See helped them tremendously in their preparations for the exams.
16. I hope that with LSB’s guidance and through examples of upstanding surveyors like Mr See, more of you will be inspired to take advantage of these opportunities. Because it is indeed true that learning is lifelong, and with a lifespan that is longer than most other parts of the world, and with a career that spans the advent and development of different types of technology, indeed, lifelong learning is going to be a valuable skill.
17. So as I conclude, let me just say that under the stewardship of LSB, the past 50 years have certainly been very eventful, and the surveying fraternity has left a very clear, indelible mark in the development of the nation. As I said at the start, you just have to look around Singapore to see the progress we have made over the years to see the impact that you have made on Singapore.
18. I urge all the surveyors here today to work closely with LSB to co-create future solutions and harness today’s opportunities for future developments that will take the surveying fraternity here to greater heights – in technological advancement, in contributing to new fields and in taking on new skillsets.
19. I am confident that if you work together, the surveying fraternity will achieve even greater success than before. And you can look forward to a brighter next 50 years than it was the last 50 years.
20. Thank you for having me here this evening, and I look forward to meeting with some of you. Congratulations on achieving this very important milestone. I want to thank LSB and your leadership for inviting me here this evening to share this occasion with you. Thank you.
Last updated on 23 March 2023